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Last updated on April 24, 2014 at 21:24 EDT

Warning Over Fraudulent Stem Cell Banks

February 22, 2010

A top US scientist is making accusations that clinics that offer to “bank” stem cells from the umbilical cords of newborns for use later in life in the event of illness are frauds.

Many countries have clinics that allow parents to make a deposit from their neonate’s umbilical cord that supposedly will allow their child to have some form of security later in life when the risk of major illnesses occur.

In Thailand, parents pay the equivalent of 3,600 US dollars to have clinics deposit stem cells, with the understanding that they are taking out some sort of health insurance for their offspring.

According to Irving Weissman, director of the Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at Stanford University in California, these parents are being taken for a ride by the stem cell banks.

“Umbilical cords contain blood-forming stem cells at a level that would maintain the blood-forming capacity of a very young child,” Weissman told reporters at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. These stem cells have a limited capacity to make bone and fat, “but they don’t make brain, they don’t make blood, they don’t make heart, they don’t make skeletal muscle, despite what various people claim.”

These fraudulent bankers set up shop in countries with poor medical regulations, according to Weissman, but reporters found websites for stem cell banks in Europe and the United States. These therapies can cost patients up to 150,000 dollars for something that has no chance of succeeding. This takes away from the family “that needs them when they have an incurable disease,” Weissman said. And, “It is wrong.”

The International Stem Cell Society is due to issue a report in April about unproven stem cell therapies such as banking a baby’s umbilical cord blood for future use.

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